Continuing with this years’ Writers of the Future winners, say hello to self described computer geek, Steve Pantazis.
Stuart: Welcome, Steve, and congratulations on your win. Introduce yourself.
Steve: I run a small software firm in Southern California, using my analytical brain during the day to troubleshoot data issues and my creative brain at night to make sweet, sweet prose. My dream is to author fiction full-time, but such an enterprise requires many publishing credits under the belt, lots of content for the masses, and a strong following of readers—something I hope to humbly achieve in the future. Until then, I will be working on getting my first novel published and sorting through lines of software code until my face turns blue.
Stuart: And when you aren’t writing?
Steve: When I’m not penning a tale, I’m cheffing it up in the kitchen, making culinary delights for my better half, who has playfully nicknamed me “Love Chef.”
Stuart: Ha ha. Now that’s a nom-de-plume!
Steve: Yes, she inspires the foodie in me. My friends joke about my postings of food pics on Facebook, wondering how I stay so thin. I tell them it’s portion control. Hah!
Another passion involves the great outdoors. As a person of Greek decent, I embrace the ancient Athenian belief of balancing the body and mind. Hiking, working out, and playing tennis are part of my repertoire, especially here in beautiful, sunny San Diego. For those of you stuck behind the keyboard, I say get out and do something good for your body. Trust me, if you’re a writer, it’s important to get the blood circulating, and not just in your fingertips.
Stuart: Very wise. Sitting at a desk all day is not what humans are built for. What got you into writing, Steve?
Steve: My journey as a writer began when I was eight. It was the year after the original Star Wars movie came out, and I was already inspired by the imagery in the epic space opera when I chanced upon a book fair at my grade school. I remember the books being displayed on foldout tables at the school library, and my allowance money burning a hole in my pocket, eager to be spent. I had no idea what to buy. In fact, I had never bought a book in my life. But there it was: The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, sitting on top of a stack of volumes, the cover depicting a painting of the famed Shire from the story. I picked up the softcover novel, leafed through the pages, smelled the wonderful scent of freshly printed pages, and knew I had to have it.
Stuart: Oh man, I remember that smell, and the smell of the floor wax at the town library. It all comes rushing back.
Steve: With my allowance gone, I went to work consuming the book and feeding my imagination. Soon after, I combined the wonder of Star Wars with the fantasy of The Hobbit, and created my first story, a space adventure that took the reader to a number of worlds across the universe. It was then that I knew I was meant to be a writer. I didn’t want to write; I didn’t like to write. I HAD to write!
Stuart: And where do you feed the habit?
Steve: I’m a night owl, so my creativity blossoms after the sun goes down. My preferred writing spot is on the couch these days, with ambient music piping gently through the speakers of my laptop. Before I met my significant other, I was a coffee shop freak, spending many an afternoon and evening sipping specialty coffee while composing my latest story with my headphones on, drowning out the commotion of those around me. I miss going to a coffee shop, but my couch does me wonders. And, of course, my partner says she enjoys my company, which is what really matters.
Stuart: Indeed. How long have you been entering WotF?
Steve: My first entry was for the 25th anniversary of Writers of the Future. I wrote a short story based in the same universe as my winning story for Volume 31, “Switch.” Back then, I thought I had a story that would be irresistible to the judges. Little did I know that my character development was woefully under par. It took a number of entries over the years, and plenty of good reading, to get an idea of what might work. My advice to future contestants is to make sure the reader cares about your protagonist. If you accomplish nothing else, make that happen.
Stuart: Good advice. And this is your first win?
Steve: This is my first contest win, although I have placed in the top five on several Writer’s Digest magazine contests, including their annual Short Story Competition and Popular Fiction Awards.
Stuart: Well that’s nothing to sneeze at. Those contest must attract a gozillion entries each. So do you follow the muse or try to plan things out?
Steve: Plotter, for sure, although I enjoy it when my stories organically take a detour. Seriously though, I feel an author should know the beginning and end to a story, no matter what kind of writer they are. You need to have some notion of the end goal in order to get there. For me, I like to outline a story to form a sense of progression. It doesn’t have to be so detailed that there isn’t any wiggle room for the unexpected, but it still needs to have some shape in order for it fulfill its promise. And fulfilling the promise to the reader is the key, no matter if you plot the story or fly by the seat of your pants.
Stuart: You put that well. Structure, but with wiggle room, room for craft to grow.
So tell me something nutty that you did.
Steve: Joining the military on a whim. I had never considered military service, and then my stepmom said to me one day, “Hey, why don’t you check out the Air Force?” Two weeks later, and I was signed up. The nutty part was lying in my bunk on the first evening of basic training, wondering, “What the heck did I get myself into?” Years later, I look back on my decision as one of the best I ever made. It just goes to show you that doing some things on a whim isn’t always a bad thing.
Stuart: When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Steve: Lego. My grandparents bought me a box of Legos when I was seven. I knew right away that I had a creative side, and Legos let me create in three dimensions. It paved the way for a lot of “idea building” in my life. Funny thing is that I live close to Legoland, and I’ve never been there. Go figure!
Stuart: I used to love all the construction toys, Erector and what not, for that reason.
Tell us about your winning story
Steve: “Switch” was inspired by my novel, Godnet, which introduces the future of the Internet—the Mindnet—where you use a simple neural implant and a good network connection to immerse yourself in a virtual reality world overlaying the real one (think Oculus Rift or Microsoft HoloLens, but on steroids!). In “Switch,” the Mindnet serves as a subplot to the main story, which is about a cop who uses his addiction to a high-tech drug called Switch to catch the kingpin dealer at the center of it all. The story just came to me one day, and I knew I had something special when I finished the last line.
I entered the story into an earlier WotF contest, and received a semi-finalist nod. That prompted me to make it better. My last submission hit gold. The moral of my tale: Don’t give up! If you believe in your story, and it falls short of the mark, retool it, and try again.
Stuart: Well there you go! Any parting advice for those aspiring authors out there?
Steve: Yes. I’ve created a mantra that sums it up perfectly: “Read voraciously and write prolifically.” You have to read regularly to get the mental juices flowing; and you have to write consistently to keep your creativity going. Set aside time to do these things. Even if you have a full-time job, kids, and a loaded-down plate of to-dos, eke out a few moments to follow your passion, and make it part of your daily ritual. After a number of years, you’ll have something to show for your hard work—and you’ll be glad you did!
Stuart: Well I can’t wait to visit the world on “switch”. Thanks, and again, congrats!